July 29, 2009

'Barcode' to help identify plants

Just chanced upon this news item a few minutes ago.. Its really something we all need to put our heads together and do. The news report is still sketchy and I have to read the PNAS article for more clarity.. But I thought I could simplify this and do a post to help many non scientists understand the significance of this news.
All of us are made up of this basic heriditary material called DNA. We all know its possible to study the DNA profile and come to conclusions on forensic analyses and paternity issues. Its called DNA fingerprinting of human beings. Similarly, we can do the same for plants. In plants, many species have similar phenotypes (external features), same structure of leaf, texture, branching etc and the defining feature is often the flower. Hence, its often difficult to identify plants unless they are flowering. To add to this difficulty, taxonomists (those who can identify and name plants based on leaf /flower morphology) are getting rarer and almost extinct:). There is no money to be made in this profession and neither is it glamorous like Biotechnology.
Such barcoding is very handy, as we can analyse the DNA and identify plants accurately and quickly.

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